Ontario municipalities to receive community transportation funding

by Rural Ontario Institute 18. March 2015 13:27

With the goal of improving transportation for youth, seniors and persons living with disabilities, Ontario has announced a new pilot grant program. As of today, 11 municipalities have been selected to receive up to $100,000 to provide better transportation services through community resources.

The communities of Atikokan, Terrace Bay, Papineau-Cameron, Haliburton, Black River-Matheson, Grey, Tillsonburg, Georgina, Simcoe, Pelham and Prescott & Russell will be receiving funding for their respective projects.

“The government of Ontario is committed to ensuring better access to transportation services for all residents, so that they can stay connected to their communities and maintain an active lifestyle. Our transportation investments like the Community Transportation Pilot Grant Program help build stronger communities,” says Steven Del Duca, Minister of Transportation.

Ministry of Transportation news release is available here.

More information on the selected municipalities is available here.


Town of Minto Awarded Bronze Designation as part of Walk Friendly Ontario

by Rural Ontario Institute 15. January 2015 13:30

This is a guest blog from Belinda Wick-Graham, Business & Economic Manager, Town of Minto.

On December 3, 2014 the Town of Minto was awarded a bronze designation as part of the Walk Friendly Ontario recognition program. This program works to “encourage municipalities to create and improve spaces and places to walk”.

The Town of Minto is a small rural municipality with a population of approximately 9,000 people spread amongst the communities of Clifford, Harriston, Palmerston and the former Minto Township and has been actively involved in developing a Walkable Community since 2005 and actually presented at the Walk21 International Conference on Walkability, which was held in Toronto in 2007.

Some of the initiatives that have been undertaken in Minto include:

·         Touring other walkable neighbourhoods and bringing some of these sustainability guidelines back to Minto in the form of a Sustainable Community Guidelines for Development & Developers that was unanimously approved by Council.

·          The Council of the Town of Minto has signed and supports the International Charter for walking.

·         We have worked with University of Guelph Masters’ students to identify potential trail linkages and communicate with local landowners to determine a route.

·         3rd Year University of Guelph Landscape Architecture students were engaged to develop streetscape ideas that improved walking and cycling, these ideas then fed into a downtown Streetscape Plan that was unanimously approved and implemented by Council. This includes the development and creation of several public spaces in the downtown core.

·         Minto is a key member of the Wellington County Active Transportation Plan process that links all 7 municipalities and the County to 49 trails/routes that connect into Wellington County and we have supported the development of trail signage standards and interpretive signage standards.

Walkable Communities are a key component of the Town of Minto Strategic Plan. We all know the health benefits of walking and we want to make it easy and enjoyable for our residents to be physically active but there are also numerous economic benefits associated with walkable communities.

a.      Higher Housing Values

b.      Attracting New Economy Workers

c.       Attracting Tourists

d.      Businesses are Relocating to Walkable Communities

e.      Walkability assists Retail Markets and Downtowns

Today more than at any other time in history, thanks largely to technology people are choosing where they want to live over where they are going to work. In Minto we are trying to build a community that has a strong quality of life, and building a walkable community is part of that. Generally, communities that are safe, attractive, environmentally sound, diverse

and culturally rich are not only desirable places to live, but tend to thrive economically.

It is no longer good enough to have decent infrastructure (roads, water, and sewer). Solid infrastructure is important, but if we don’t provide that quality of life element we will quickly see our population decline and we will not be able to afford to pay for that infrastructure.  This is one of the reasons why the Town of Minto invests in building a Walkable Community. The Walk Friendly Ontario designation will be used to not only expand and improve our efforts but to promote our community.



Ministry of Education Proposes Major Changes to School Closure Processes

by Rural Ontario Institute 10. December 2014 12:59

Major changes have been quietly proposed in the Pupil Accommodation Review Guidelines (PARG) that the Ministry of Education sets as the minimum standards which school boards must follow when considering closing schools. The extremely limited timeline for commenting on these proposed changes suggests the Ministry is not prepared to have an extended public discussion about this even though many rural stakeholders would likely be concerned about the potential impact of the changes especially for communities that have only a single school. See for example all the work of the Community Schools Alliance which argued strenuously for more flexibility in those circumstances.

The new proposed guidelines would actually remove consideration of the community impacts from the purview of the reviews and reduce public meeting requirements.

Strangely, the unseemly haste with this consultation appears at odds with the mandate letters to the Ministers of Education and Municipal Affairs and Housing which included the development of policy regarding the role schools could play as community hubs. Developing schools as community hubs implies processes to form partnerships and innovation for collaborative use of school buildings with a combination of public benefit uses. It seems a reasonable way to ensure important community assets remain viable and contribute to community well-being and especially relevant where there may be a single school in the community and declining enrollment. Shouldn’t the new guidelines encourage Accommodation Review processes to consider these types of outcomes and not just narrow the scope of the review process to student achievement as now proposed? Perhaps the Ministry should consider this.

The consultation document can be found here on the People for Public Education website which also includes a good summary of the changes:

Likewise, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario is informing its members of the proposed changes because of the impact on municipal representation in the process. 

The Ministry is accepting feedback until December 18 2014 and suggesting the proposed Guidelines would become effective in January 2015. Feedback can be sent to:



Age-Friendly Community Planning Grant Announced

by Rural Ontario Institute 26. November 2014 10:42

This guest blog is provided by the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat

The Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat has launched the Age-Friendly Community Planning Grant program and will be accepting applications through Grants Ontario until Friday January 30, 2015, at 5:00pm (EST). All project activity must be completed by March 31, 2017.  Priority will be given to projects that target small municipalities and communities with diverse populations, and those in rural and remote areas of Ontario. Priority will also be given to communities that have not yet begun age-friendly community planning work or do not have a local age-friendly action plan. With an investment of $1.5 million over two-years, the program will support strategic planning activities that make communities more age-friendly, helping seniors contribute to all aspects of community life.  See the News Release and Backgrounder for further information. 

The funding levels for the grant program are based on population size:

•          Up to $25,000 for small communities (under 20,000 residents)

•          Up to $35,000 for medium-sized communities (20,000 to 99,999 residents)

•          Up to $50,000 for larger communities (more than 100,000 residents).


Community Transportation Pilot Grant Program Announced

by Rural Ontario Institute 26. November 2014 10:31

This guest blog has been provided by the Ministry of Transportation

The Ministry of Transportation is pleased to announce the launch of the Community Transportation Pilot Grant Program.  With this grant program, we invite municipalities across the Province to work with local community organizations to propose community transportation projects.  The Ministry is making available $1 million over two years to assist communities in improving transportation options and access through the coordination of services and the sharing of transportation resources.  Grant applications will be accepted until January 30, 2015, 5:00 pm EST.

More information can be found in the News Release - English and News Release - French and details of the grant program, eligibility requirements, and the application form are available at the Ministry of Transportation website.



Funding available to train front line staff in critical areas of the law

by Rural Ontario Institute 20. November 2014 10:37

This blog is provided by Vivien Green, Project Manager Connecting Communities, Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO)

Strengthening Linkages between legal and community services 

Low-income rural residents find themselves talked into expensive energy contracts and have no one to ask about their legality or how to get out of them. Migrant farm workers are not paid the wages they're legally entitled to and are afraid to complain.  These scenarios illustrate situations that pose challenges for people who face barriers to accessible legal information and services. While these are specific circumstances, there are many others which may affect a broad cross-section of individuals in rural Ontario, such as family law, tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities and workplace safety. 

To help address barriers in accessing legal help, Connecting Communities is an initiative funded by The Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO) that helps agencies train their front line staff in critical areas of the law.  

The goals of Connecting Communities are to increase the capacity of community workers to better understand the law and secondly, to build stronger connections between legal and community services. We know that it is difficult, if not impossible to take advantage of the protections that the law offers to individuals, families and communities.  

Through Connecting Communities, organizations are able to apply for funding for training projects to help front line workers and community leaders learn about the law.  With this training, workers can help community members be able to recognize their legal rights and know how and where to get appropriate legal services. The training is targeted to workers in immigrant communities, rural or remote communities. 

Since Connecting Communities was initiated in 2010, 15 Connecting Projects have been funded. 

Examples include:

1. The Community Law School (Sarnia-Lambton) Inc. - a range of  front-line service providers received training in four rural communities  on consumer protection issues commonly faced by people

2. Equay-Wuk Women’s Group, located in Sioux Lookout was funded to provide training in criminal and family law to community workers and women elders from 31 remote and fly-in First Nations communities across Northwestern Ontario. 

How Connecting Communities works

* A small staff team provides outreach and support to agencies to transform ideas into training proposals

* Activities are guided by an Advisory Committee comprised of people with expertise in public legal education and members of the target communities. 

* Final funding decisions are made by the Law Foundation of Ontario 

For more information or if you are interested in developing a legal information training project, please contact Vivien Green, Project Manager: greenv@lao.on.ca or 416.408.4420 ext 835


A Rural Nurse Speaks Out

by Rural Ontario Institute 11. November 2014 14:28

This is a guest blog from Shirley Roebuck, R.N.

From 1972 to 2009, I earned my living as a registered nurse. I worked in large tertiary care centers in Toronto and worked as an RN in a small rural hospital in Wallaceburg, ON.

The two working experiences are quite different, and also surprisingly quite similar. In large tertiary care hospitals, like Toronto General Hospital or St. Michael's Hospital, there is access to world class medical therapies and expert personnel to help provide patient care. In small rural hospitals, you have the support of colleagues and access to basic health care therapies to help provide patient care. Both situations have the same priority: to provide appropriate care to the patient.

For over 20 years, our political leaders have been attempting to downsize small rural hospitals, and regionalize health care in larger centers. Small community hospitals have seen their beds cut and their services eliminated or moved to larger centers. They are a shell of what they used to be, and are able to support larger community hospitals or big city hospitals to a much lesser degree. Thus there is a back-up of care at all levels: small rural hospitals, larger community hospitals and big city hospitals.

Remedies that are often touted as replacements (community care vs hospital care) are not totally effective. There is no doubt that better primary care can result in fewer hospital admissions, better preventative care and early detection and treatment. But these do not provide the range of services that a local hospital provides.Closing and cutting small local hospitals in an effort to decrease hospital admissions and cut beds more deeply than anywhere else in Canada means that Ontarians are not receiving the services or time in hospital that is needed to assure a successful discharge to the community. Repeat visits to the Emergency Department and repeat admissions are rising. People are developing more health problems while in hospital, and patient outcomes are worse. 

Ontario needs its health care to be grounded in sound hospital care planning. Despite decades of claims by Health Ministers that care is being moved to the community, “community services” remains a vague term, and can mean different things. It can mean increased home care services, it can mean fragmented health services provided by different providers/agencies or it can mean private for profit clinics. It can mean waiting at home on a waiting list with no help at all. It almost always means less care and less publicly-funded coverage for patients. 

There are alternate solutions to improve Ontario’s health care system, including partnerships between small and rural community hospitals and tertiary care hospitals, offering expert acute care through our world class tertiary care centers, and recovery close to home, provided by competent and familiar health care providers.

The cost savings of closing/downsizing rural hospitals have never been proven. As a nurse, I see every day how budget cuts have downloaded costs and stress onto patients and their families who struggle to travel further for care or go without, putting their health in jeopardy. As a nurse who has worked in the largest tertiary care hospitals in Canada and in a small community hospital, I cannot believe that it is cheaper to run services in specialist- and technology-driven large hospitals. 

For these reasons and more, I believe in the importance of rural hospitals to the Ontario landscape. 

Shirley Roebuck, R.N.

Resources are available here


Information is good - and raises more questions!

by Rural Ontario Institute 21. October 2014 13:05

This commentary is about the Focus on Rural Ontario fact sheets concerning migration by age group. It is provided by Nelson Rogers, MSW, EdD, Principal Consultant, Community Ingenuity. 

The Focus on Rural Ontario fact sheets bring together a range of data in a user-friendly, readable format that hit the middle ground of more than a briefing note but less than a research paper. Hopefully the fact sheets are being accessed by rural municipal staff and rural organizations as it would be challenging to assemble equivalent information from Statistics Canada and similar sources. That said, the question remains “Now that I know, what can I do with all this information?”  Here are a few thoughts on how the recent demographic fact sheets apply to Lanark County.

Although it is well known that immigration is a key component of Canadian public policy for a number of economic and demographic reasons, with few exceptions this is a much more important issue for urban areas than rural. In the 2011-12 period covered by the “Components of Population Change” fact sheet, Lanark County had 46 immigrant arrivals but 93 emigrant departures, for a net loss of less than one tenth of a percent of the total population of over 67,000. Since the birth/death ratio is fairly evenly balanced, the major source of population growth is due to migration within the province resulting in a net increase of 269 people in the same timeframe. The “Non-metro Census Division Migration” fact sheet shows that the majority of the Lanark County in and out migration is with the city of Ottawa.  

The fact sheets on employment support the idea that a reasonable rate of population growth is important for employment and economic reasons.  (A side note – the fact sheets need to be reviewed together since understanding one issue often depends on insights from related issues.) Based on the employment and demographic information highlighted in the fact sheets, if Lanark County is going to achieve a healthy growth rate (i.e. closer to the provincial average), there would likely be significant impact from a focus on recruitment from Ottawa and implementation of measures to reduce movement to Ottawa, but little impact from a focus on immigration. As policy decisions are made at the county level, or by municipalities, or community organizations and agencies, the data would support declining to participate in immigrant settlement initiatives, but implementing measures in the areas of zoning, property development, property taxation, etc. that are likely to attract Ottawa residents to relocate to Lanark County or reduce the migration from the county to Ottawa. Examples of results of these policies would include new subdivisions that feature retirement-friendly housing at price points that are attractive to Ottawa homeowners (and some are currently under development in Smiths Falls).  

Other research on the Lanark County labour market indicates that population migration is quite different for the various age cohorts. (Another side note – the fact sheets answer some questions but raise others that require further research.  Whether this is a quality or a fault lies in the eye of the beholder.) Out-migration is particularly strong in the 18-24 age group and in-migration is strongest in the 45-64 age group, and migration is fairly well balanced for people 25 to 44. While a certain amount of out-migration of young people is healthy for reasons related to education, employment, and life stage, the out-migration of the middle ages has serious consequences for local businesses, schools, and other social institutions. Addressing this issue would require more sophisticated and targeted policy actions than those outlined above – perhaps such things as start-up or expansion incentives for businesses that address quality of life issues for people aged  25 to 54, or employee recruitment assistance for employers attempting to fill mid-career positions.

Overall, the fact sheets present information that should stimulate informed discussion of policy alternatives, as well as reveal the need for further research.

Is rural Ontario already the face of things to come for Canada? Yes and no

by Rural Ontario Institute 19. September 2014 09:31
Statistics Canada recently released Canada-wide population projection scenarios for provinces and territories. The projections take 2013 numbers and look ahead 40 years and are based on various sets of assumptions about key components of population change such as inter-provincial migration, fertility and morbidity rates and international migration.  

Have a look at what these projections are saying about Canada’s potential future and compare it to where rural Ontario already is today. Click here. Several of the key implications of the projections are already a reality in much of rural Ontario – higher levels of senior dependency and an increasingly slow rate of natural increase as deaths start to overtake the number of births. Ray Bollman’s presentation to the recent Ontario East conference highlighted some of these realities pointing out that rural economic development is going to be harder than it used to be. 

ROI’s recent Focus on Rural Ontario fact sheets show that 17 of 27 non-metro (rural) census divisions were already showing net natural decreases for 2012/13. In terms of the senior dependency ratio - the number of people over 65 for every 100 people in the 15-64 workforce age range - all Ontario non-metro census divisions are now already over 40 with some counties having a senior dependency ratio over 60. Contrast that with the projections which suggest Canada as a whole would move from 30 now to 37 seniors per 100 in the workforce by 2030 in a medium growth scenario.

How rural Ontario innovates and deals with business succession planning, health care, mobility and social service needs of our current population structure can provide models or lessons learned that will be relevant in the future for almost all parts of Canada. Wouldn’t it show forethought and good public policy leadership to get some recognition of that and see some extra resources flow to rural agencies and organizations so that they can test out new approaches that should prove useful for everyone else in the years to come? 

What is clearly different about rural Ontario now than Statistics Canada’s overall projections at the provincial level are the levels of international migration. Continuing international migration is going to be the key driver of future population growth in the Canada-wide projections and might have you thinking that it could also serve to arrest potential population decline in rural places. Except that very few international immigrants choose to settle in small-town Ontario – despite the best efforts of Local Immigration Partnerships to create welcoming communities.

Perhaps it is time for a serious conversation about this.  

Perhaps it's not the integration services in the receiving communities which are actually the roadblock here, perhaps it’s the outlook and make-up of the incoming population. Highly educated, skilled immigrants coming from very large, dynamic globally interconnected cities (think Mumbai, Singapore, Hong Kong, or Manilla) just may not see their future in small towns – they could just be big city-oriented in their vision of their place in the world and maybe even haven’t considered living in a small town. Any forthcoming review of the Ontario Immigration Strategy should really consider the settlement patterns of newcomers and whether we could be doing more to encourage settlement in existing communities outside the congested GTA.  

Need to think seriously about how we welcome newcomers

by Rural Ontario Institute 16. September 2014 13:33

This commentary is about the Focus on Rural Ontario fact sheets concerning immigration, migration and components of population change. It is provided by Alex Goss, Project Manager at the Guelph Wellington Local Immigration Partnership. 

The Guelph Wellington Local Immigration Partnership is a group of over 80 partners, organizations, businesses, and individuals that are working on immigration issues. Our vision is to create a welcoming community by addressing barriers to employment, economic development, access to services, and inclusion and awareness of immigration issues. While we focus on immigrants, our vision is for everyone, and immigration and population growth means a larger, more skilled workforce, that can attract businesses to the community and create a more resilient and thriving economy. To create a welcoming community, we need to both understand how our communities are evolving, and demonstrate the value and importance of immigration – Focus on Rural Ontario information on immigrant arrivals and migration helps in both regards. 

We believe that immigrants create an overall economic benefit to our communities and strive to encourage other immigrants and newcomers to move to Wellington and Guelph. The Focus on Rural Ontario information tells us who is coming to Wellington and Guelph and from where. We’re able to access annual information about immigrant arrivals, see how we compare to other communities across Ontario, and whether we’re doing a good job of encouraging immigration to this area.  This helps us understand the attractiveness of our communities to newcomers and where some of our strengths are. It also helps identify potential challenges and opportunities around the attraction and retention of newcomers.  

In speaking with people across our region, we’ve found that there are some misconceptions about the role that newcomers and immigrants play in our communities. We sometimes hear that immigrants are taking our jobs, or that immigrants are lowering wages for Canadian-born workers. However, the opposite is true as immigrants are economic drivers for many communities in Ontario such as Wellington County and Guelph. Focus on Rural Ontario data presented on international migration, births, and net migration paints a clear picture of how quickly our community is growing and the critical role immigration plays in that growth. This allows us to present the facts to our local stakeholders, businesses, and residents, on some of the demographic and economic benefits that newcomers bring to our communities. For example, we can now say that 32% of all population growth in Guelph Wellington was as a result of international migration, that our labour force and skills in the community are growing because of immigration. While these numbers are encouraging on one level, we also know that immigrants are not evenly-distributed across our region as Guelph is home to nearly 90% of local immigrants. By presenting the facts, and raising awareness about the benefits of immigration, we hope to encourage people in our region – including in the more rural parts of Wellington County – to think seriously about how we welcome newcomers.